Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thinking about this road we are going down.

While listening to Miles today, I came across a notion that stopped to make me think for a second. The subject hits home, so I hope you might do the same.

Camden, the poorest (or really close to it) city in NJ, hired the elementary band school teacher which Medford - one of the richest town in South Jersey, laid off. Now, Medford had to lay him off since they could not afford to keep him, as well as the other elementary band teacher. It is also well documented that Art and Music are the first things to go when budgets get tight.

Now, we have all had to make cut backs lately. I have finally found a job after being laid off for 14 months. But why does the Medford township school board layoff teachers and not trim for other areas like administration? Heck, I have heard one of the secretaries in the school district clears $100,000. Another school has 12 vice-principals. Why can't the administrators start multitasking? I have two kids, a job, (and now) a part-time job and after-school activities, I'm not Superman, but we manage. The point here is 'why layoff teachers who directly interface with our kids, and opt for the overly expensive management that coordinate and push papers'. I'm certain that I am over-simplifying their jobs, but I have to wonder what the Superintendent is thinking - or is he a politician before an educator? And the teacher's Union isn't helping us either.

Last year, after a presentation by my daughters' class on a neat Promethean smart board, we found out that all of the classes in the school were to get one in the coming year. How much does that cost? Purchase, installation, training? - I'm pretty sure that could pay for a teachers salary for a year. The question comes down to what is really necessary. I'm all for keeping up with technology, but when so much is on the line, I start to wonder what is really necessary.

I'll get to my point, does a smart board help our kids? They really don't, they are a tool for the teacher. It helps the teachers by making their computer presentations and notes which they write on the board printable so they can just hand them out rather than teaching kids how to take notes (it's a narrow vision, I admit). Can't the way things were displayed last a little longer till the recession is over? And please understand, this is NOT about bashing the teachers or the Smart board manufacturers, I just would like to coax the school district to employ a few more teachers.

OK, let's talk about how music has been stripped out of the elementary curriculum. What does music do? It teaches kids about culture, it helps them to communicate and grow socially, it also gives them something else to do than sit in front of the TV. It evens the playing field between the kids that are skilled at sports and those that aren't. And they play 'together'. Does a smart board help with social skills? People, if there is anything our kids need - it has to be social skills.

I know that there are programs installed in the Elementary curriculum to teach social skills. But the great thing about music is that the social skills are built-in, not bashed into their brains with videos and sporadic discussion - snore... And they get a sense of community from something that simple... It's not about exclusion. It's not about competition at this level. It's about new skills and community - playing together for a common purpose. Learning to communicate with anyone through the played note or refrain - it's liberating to think of it. And it's fun to too, what's there not to gain?

Now, what does the Camden school district understand that Medford does not? I'm certain that there are programs and other red tape in the school funding systems which I do not know of or can begin to fathom. But that does not make me ignorant of the fact that education is about growing 'civilized people'. And if we forget about culture and social skills, we will be heading down a bad stretch of road.

What decisions our school board makes today will affect 'us all' down the road - it's alot to take in when you think of it in those terms. We are stewards of our future by our decisions, and learning should not be black & white where basic knowledge is the only thing 'we' think is necessary to teach our children. There is much to be learned from culture - not just past culture, but the ones which our children will forge enabled with a broad spectrum of knowledge through, Math, Music (which also has math built-in too), Literature, Art, Social Studies, and so on. By cutting an important part of learning out of our children's elementary experience - and that is EXACTLY what they are going through - an experience, we are cheating them and ourselves in the long run... So who do these cuts help?

-No one

...thanks for listening.